When it comes to accessing faster wireless, it seems like a no-brainer. The faster, the better, right? And with Verizon already having 5G live in some locations with plans to launch 5G radio specifications in 30 U.S. cities in 2019, it seems the lighting-fast data speeds are within reach.
But here’s the thing. We aren’t quite sure of 5G health effects.
In fact, we’re still trying to figure out how electromagnetic radiation involved with current forms of wireless technology are impacting human health. Some scientists and public health experts worry we’re rushing toward lightning-fast 5G without fully understanding 5G health effects.
What Is 5G?
5G, also known as 5th generation mobile networks or wireless systems, is considered the next phase in mobile technology. These wireless systems are the transmitters that carry signals to our cell phones and other wireless devices.
While the public isn’t operating on 5G yet, it’s anticipated that over the next decade, most wireless carriers in the U.S. will shift to 5G technology. This transition is expected to bring better coverage, lower battery consumption, faster Internet connection speeds, and the ability to support a growing market of products other than phones and tablets that feature wireless integration.
In essence, 5G will be the mobile networks, often referred to as cell phone towers, that power wireless technology. But get this: As we’re expected to start shifting toward 5G technology around the early 2020s, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler says we can expect to see a lot more of those mobile towers.
So while we may enjoy anywhere from 10 to 50 times faster connection speeds that help fuel better data consumption, we may in return get millions of new cell phone towers on our street corners. (Our current 4G LTE technology relies on about 200,000 cell phone towers around the U.S.)
But 5G needs a much denser network, meaning many more cell towers of all sizes all over the place. The fact that these things have never been proven safe — and that worrisome science is cropping up around wireless technology — is cause for concern.
And it seems this 5G plan is full speed ahead. On July 14, 2016, the FCC voted to approve Spectrum Frontiers, making the U.S. the first country in the world to open up higher-frequency millimeter wave spectrum for the development of 5G fifth-generation wireless cellular technology.
Environmental Health Trust is voicing concerns because health, safety and environmental evaluations to understand the impact on humans, wildlife and the environment have not been done. In fact, before the FCC gave 5G the green light, the agency was flooded with comments in opposition to 5G.
5G Health Effects: What We Know, What We Don’t Know
What we do know is that moving to 5G technology will bring a surge of cell phone transmitting towers and more wireless devices, including more wireless-enabled vehicles that we spend a lot of time in and appliances around the home. Shifting to 5G will help support an explosion in wireless products, meaning we’re going to be facing major increases in exposure.
While the industry contends this is all safe, the preliminary results of a huge $25 million National Toxicology Program study released in 2016 suggest otherwise. Scientists found a link between cell phone radiation and cancer. Keep in mind researchers found the increased risk at radiation exposure levels similar to what’s deemed safe by the U.S. government. In the rat study, the cell phone radiation raised levels of brain cancer and a rare heart tumor. Risk increased with higher radiation exposure.
Of course, there’s still a lot of research to be done before we can definitely say cell phone radiation causes cancer. But should we be guinea pigs in the meantime? Leeka Kheifets, PhD, an epidemiology professor at UCLA, said the following in the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t think it’s clear that there are health risks, but it’s also not clear that there are no health risks.”
A 2018 study published in the journal Health Physics that the extremely fast bursts of data transfer on a device as the result of 5G technology may lead to the heating of skin tissue in exposed people under current safety guidelines. The researchers conclude,
The results also show that the peak-to-average ratio of 1,000 tolerated by the International Council on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection guidelines may lead to permanent tissue damage after even short exposures, highlighting the importance of revisiting existing exposure guidelines.
A scientific article also published in 2018 points out how the high frequency millimeter waves (MMW) that power 5G have been linked to significant health implications:
Preliminary observations showed that MMW increase skin temperature, alter gene expression, promote cellular proliferation and synthesis of proteins linked with oxidative stress, inflammatory and metabolic processes, could generate ocular damages, affect neuromuscular dynamics.
Are we willing to expose millions of Americans to even higher levels of electromagnetic radiation through wireless technologies when we don’t even know what the true 5G health effects really are?
For decades, Americans were told things like cigarette smoke, DDT, Monsanto and other pesticides were safe, when we now know they’re linked to cancer and other health problems. So are we going to do it again — on a massive scale — with wireless without even properly studying human health impacts. (Or considering possibly safer ways of doing things?)
It would greatly extend FCC’s current policy of the mandatory irradiation of the public without adequate prior study of the potential health impact and assurance of safety. It would irradiate everyone, including the most vulnerable to harm from radiofrequency radiation: pregnant women, unborn children, young children, teenagers, men of reproductive age, the elderly, the disabled, and the chronically ill. — Ronald Powell, PhD